Hundreds of off-duty firefighters Tuesday urged lawmakers to pass a bill that seeks to shore up the state’s firefighter pension fund. The clocking is ticking on the current legislative session, scheduled to adjourn no later than May 25, increasing the urgency regarding House Bill 2320, the Firefighters Pension Reform Bill.
Authored by Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, and co-authored by Rep. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, the bill would increase active firefighters’ pension contributions by 1 percent and increase employer contributions by 1 percent.
It would also increase the portion of the insurance premium tax allocated to the firefighters’ retirement system from 34 percent to 36 percent. Based on previous years collections, that change would provide about $3.5 million per year from employer contributions and $2.5 million annually from additional employee contributions.
Gov. Mary Fallin has indicated she will sign the legislation if it arrives on her desk.
Before entering the Capitol to meet with lawmakers, the firefighters were briefed by Herb Bradshaw, executive director of the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association, and Phil Ostrander, a lobbyist for the association.
Ostrander said a House conference committee passed HB 2320 on Monday.
In the Senate, where it was approved during the third reading by a 38-0 vote on April 19, it was being considered by a conference committee consisting of Anderson, Sen. Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow, Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City, Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, and Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada. Mazzei and Adelson had excused absences; the other conferees voted for the bill on April 19.
Now, Ostrander said, the bill is deadlocked in the Senate conference committee, and the goal was to try to convince either Brown, Mazzie or Aldridge to vote for the measure.
On Feb. 16, the House passed the bill 93-1.
Firefighters received information from the Oklahoma State Firefighters Association, which listed total fiscal year 2011 city contributions, the base salary of city contributions, a 1 percent increase to city contributions on the base salary and approximate additional city contributions for FY 2013 under HB 2320.
According to the association, Edmond’s approximate additional city contributions for FY 2013 would be $44,754.64. Guthrie’s would be $4,675.81. Norman’s would be $47,627.29, Oklahoma City’s would be $358,409.51 and Tulsa’s would be $195,783.91.
The Oklahoma Municipal League has been lobbying against HB 2320, claiming cities will end up paying an annual $5 million unfunded mandate.
Edmond Fire Capt. Greg Westermier, one of the city’s off-duty firefighters at the Capitol, said the bill is a shared sacrifice, a fact reiterated by other firefighters who were there.
Inside, Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, met with a group of mostly Edmond firefighters outside his office. Jolley said he supports the bill, and the fact that so many firefighters used some of their personal time to participate was making a statement.
Jolley faces Edmond pastor Paul Blair in the race for the Senate District 41 seat.
In 2011, the firefighter pension system fell under the Legislature’s scrutiny due to its funded ratio of 53.4 percent, and its $1.4 billion unfunded actuarial accrued liability.